Go for Gaelic?

20th June 2003 at 01:00
LEARNING Gaelic is worth the candle and the Scottish Executive is at last supporting the language. We are to have a Gaelic language Act within a year or more that promises a new dawn. This will be a significant event for the Scottish Parliament and yet another argument for a legislative body on your doorstep, not merely a Scottish Secretary with limited influence at Westminster.

Many urban Scots will perceive this as peripheral policy-making, a concession to the Nationalists, to grumbling malcontents in the north and to city middle-classes with Celtic roots who favour bilingualism for their offspring. Others may view this as central to a new Scotland, more confident about its history and place in an expanded Europe.

But where will it take us? Wales has had in place legislation and structures for 10 years to support language expansion. It is claimed all Welsh pupils will soon leave school at 16 bilingually competent, the beneficiaries of compulsion. The cautionary warning from our Celtic cousin is that forcing young people to speak Welsh through schools does not itself ensure a vibrant future. Young people have to use it at home, socially and at work. That is a bigger call we should not forget in any euphoria about attaining our own language Act.

In contrast to Wales, we simply do not have the depth of community commitment or identity with the historic national language and, in this new era of curricular flexibility, compulsion would not wash in schools. Gaelic remains in serious decline and teachers on whom a revival partly depends are reluctant to devote careers to it. This could take a generation to solve by which time it could be too late. But pessimism is said to be a Celtic trait.

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